The stereotypical definition of Feminists held by many is that they are frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock. I find evidence of this sentiment no matter who I ask or where I search. In response, I will say only that every activist movement has a tendency at times to let anger at the status quo threaten to overshadow its altruistic policies predicated on compassion. However, this characterization isn’t exactly justified for a variety of reasons. With the passage of time the radical, reactive voices within Feminism have been held up to highest scrutiny—the implication being that they must surely speak for the whole. The ultimate fault in why this assumption has been allowed to thrive and grow is not easily assigned, but a drop off in active involvement within the movement as a whole is regrettably a big part of the problem.
Institutional memory in American liberalism is often in short supply. We frequently forget the trailblazers and fostering mothers and fathers that guided us because so many of the rank-and-file have left or devoted their attention toward other things. Feminism once was quite fashionable, as was participation and proud membership within groups like NOW, along with the omnipresent subscription to Ms. magazine. Looking specifically at membership in a wide cross-section of left-wing movements, I note with some trepidation that we are now neither losing, neither are we gaining. As one person leaves, another springs up to take his/her place. But when this happens, the newcomers find themselves severely challenged by the ability to use the breakthroughs and lessons of the past and put them in their proper context.
Every ideological movement or group based on common identity feels a compulsion to look back into the past to find both a means of pointing to supreme authority or for help in its own discernment of ideas. As much as we embrace the future as the bellwether of the needed systemic changes to advance our agenda, we also rely heavily upon the past to grant us guidance and underscore our values. This is not a paradox in terms, but it nonetheless is a facet of Progressive thought that often times goes overlooked. Speaking specifically to the Feminist movement, this is accomplished for some by constantly alluding back to Feminist history. However, without a common memory, these names and accomplishments seem like ghostly apparitions pulled from the shadows. Without a collective sense of continuity, the most abrasive, strident voices easily rise to the top and end up dominating the entire message.